Doing business in United Kingdom

Business in London is intense and fast paced. Extended business lunches and post-work drinks were regarded as part of the modern working environment until relatively recently. Nowadays, the emphasis is increasingly on hard work and long hours.

British businesspeople are unlikely to be overtly demonstrative – hand gestures and the use of expressive body language will be minimal and apart from shaking hands, physical contact should be avoided. Standard dress code is a suit and tie for men and a suit (or equivalent) for women but varies greatly depending on the company, with those in the new technologies sectors especially tending towards informality. Punctuality in important and business cards should be carried.

North of the border, in Edinburgh, clients are usually well entertained by their Scottish hosts, most likely taken to lunch in a restaurant or pub (depending on the formality of the business) or to a restaurant in the evening. It is not usual for clients to be invited to one’s home. If this is the case, however, visitors should take a gift of flowers, chocolates, wine or whisky, the latter single malt rather than a blend, and always Scotch.

In Wales, all public-sector organisations are bilingual but most private companies conduct business in English unless all parties speak Welsh. Overseas visitors should be prepared to speak English during meetings, if necessary through an interpreter.

In Northern Ireland, meetings are normally arranged from 0900 in offices, alternatively in restaurants or pubs for early afternoon appointments. Visitors should always be punctual and, if formal business is being done, wear either a suit or a jacket and tie. If a late morning meeting is arranged, it is good practice to issue a lunch invitation – whoever extends the invitation usually pays for the meal. The Irish are famed for their sense of humour and the ability to poke fun at themselves and many people take a fun-loving, light-hearted look at life. Nonetheless visitors should avoid any criticism of, or jokes about the people or their culture, and be aware that subjects such as religion and €œThe Troubles€ can be particularly sensitive topics.

Office hours: 

Mon-Fri 0900-1700/1800. However, business hours in London can be much longer.


The UK is a member of the G8 group of the world’s leading industrial nations. Engineering (especially of military products), chemicals, electronics, construction and textiles are the main components of the industrial sector. Among service industries, tourism, media, retail, financial services, telecommunications and computer services are the most important and have undergone rapid growth, while heavy industries and manufacturing have suffered relative decline.

Scotland’s principal industries are financial and business services, renewable energy, food and drink, life sciences, sustainable tourism, universities and the creative industries.

The UK’s external economic relations were once dominated by the EU but with the economic rise of the BRIC nations and ongoing financial instability in the Eurozone, exports to the EU have now fallen to 43%. The overriding issue facing the government is the extent to which they are willing to integrate into the European economy. Whilst the argument was once focused on whether Britain should adopt the Euro, the debate has shifted to whether Britain should remain part of the EU at all. Calls for a referendum on the topic have so far failed to be fulfilled, but the issue is set to be a central pillar of debate during the 2015 election. Many political and business leaders favour membership, but there is huge opposition in the country at large. The conclusion of the debate may be decisive to Britain’s economic future.

On the domestic front, Britain has been impacted, along with every other country in Europe, by the financial crisis of 2008. Austerity measures brought in by the coalition government have seen the economy stall, with the UK suffering a recession and weak forecasts for growth, although unemployment has been kept in check. Banks and big business continue to ensure London remains a financial hub, but much of the public and political will is in favour of reigning in the banks with tougher regulatory measures.

The Welsh economy has taken a battering as the UK has battled to undo the negative economic impact of the recent financial crisis. The traditional manufacturing and mining industries in the country were already under decline in the latter half of the 20th century, but the stagnant pace of economic growth, coupled with a lack of consumer spending means many high streets are also facing an uphill struggle to keep shops open, and the service sector has suffered since 2009. Within the UK, Wales has the highest proportion of unemployment, with 8.4% out of work, compared to the national average of 7.8%, and GDP per head is lower than across the rest of the UK.

Despite these struggles, the devolved Welsh government is introducing a number of measures to boost Wales, with programmes aimed at encouraging new business start-ups and foreign investment, a plan to expand the UK’s broadband network to cover rural areas of Wales by 2015, and the ongoing electrification of the rail network, with the aim of shortening train times.

In Scotland, export of transport equipment as well as textiles, clothing and leather both increased significantly in 2011 (7.9% and 19.4% respectively). The largest contributions to growth in the same year were from the food and drink and chemicals and refined petroleum products sectors. Whisky exports, valued at £4.23 billion, reached a record high in 2011, while fruit and vegetable exports saw the fastest growth in this sector, rocketing by 62.4% to £62 million.

As with the rest of the UK, Scotland’s economy has struggled to recover from the 2008 financial crisis. The economy grew by 0.5% in 2011, but fell by 0.1% during the Q1 of 2012. Unemployment in Scotland stood at 8.1% in early 2012, just below the UK rate of 8.3%. In Scotland the issue is whether it can stand on its own two feet economically, ahead of the independence vote. How well it can fare without the rest of the UK remains a hotly debated topic.

In Northern Ireland, traditional manufacturing industries have declined, although a steady stream of government contracts has enabled it to survive in a reduced form. Industries like shipbuilding and textile manufacturing are not the forces they once were. Agriculture has performed steadily, underpinned by the policies of the European Union. The public sector is a major employer (even more so than on the British mainland) and subventions from the British government in one form or another account for a significant portion of the province’s income.

The political settlement in the province has presented a number of new opportunities for Northern Ireland’s economy, as well as a number of problems. The most important of these is tourism, which is particularly sensitive to political circumstances in the province. However, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland now market themselves jointly overseas under the Tourism Ireland banner – this is in addition to Visit Britain’s promotion of Northern Ireland – and awareness of what the destination offers has seen growth in recent years.


US$2.2 trillion (2009).

Main exports: 

Service sector, manufactured goods, food, beverages and tobacco.

Main imports: 

Manufactured goods, machinery and fuels, and food.

Main trading partners: 

USA, Germany, France, Ireland and Netherlands.

Keeping in Touch in United Kingdom


The United Kingdom’s famous red phone boxes can be found in most towns and cities, as well as other more modern phone booths. Some boxes take coins, others phonecards or credit cards.

Mobile phone: 

Roaming agreements exist with most international mobile phone operators. Coverage is mostly good, but can be patchy in rural areas. It is possible to buy a pay as you go sim card from any phone shop or booth.


Most hotels, restaurants and public buildings offer Wi-Fi, although this may be less likely in more rural areas. The City of London now has free Wi-Fi covering 95% of the Square Mile, whilst London Underground now offers Wi-Fi at stations across the network. There are internet cafés and centres in most urban areas. Some multimedia phone booths, often located at railway stations and airports, offer touchscreen access.


Stamps are available from post offices and many shops and stores. There are stamp machines outside some post offices. Post boxes are red. First-class internal mail normally reaches its destination the day after posting (except in remote areas of Scotland), and most second-class mail the day after that. International postal connections are good.

Post office hours: 

Mon-Fri 0900-1730 and Sat 0900-1230, although some post offices are open much longer hours.


The British media are free and able to report on all subjects, although the recent Leveson inquiry has put the regulation of the press in the spotlight, with some seeing the recent deal to create a new press regulator as a threat to the freedom of the press. The variety of publications throughout the UK reflects the full spectrum of political opinion. There are a plethora of regional and local papers, some published on a daily basis. With regards to television and radio, the BBC is a taxpayer-funded network, whilst ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 are commercial networks.

Dominated by about 10 major newspapers, UK circulation figures are amongst the highest in the world. Broadsheets are The Daily Telegraph, The Financial Times, The Guardian, The Independent, The Observer (on Sunday) and The Times. The more popular tabloid newspapers are The Daily Express, The Daily Mail, The Daily Mirror and The Sun. Most papers have an associated Sunday newspaper, though there are some independents. There are also daily regional newspapers. The BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) is funded by a licence fee, which all households with a TV set must pay. There is no advertising on the BBC. Commercial TV began in 1955 with the launch of ITV.

Scotland’s main national newspapers include The Scotsman, The Herald and the tabloid Daily Record, with regional papers The Press and Journal and The Courier read in the Aberdeen and Dundee areas respectively. All UK networks broadcast in Scotland, with substantial national Scottish input, mainly in the news, sport and current affairs sectors. BBC Alba is a digital channel broadcasting in Gaelic.

The main Northern Irish daily newspapers are the Belfast Telegraph and the Irish News. There are numerous local newspapers produced in larger towns around the province. UK national and Republic of Ireland newspapers are also readily available, some produced in localised editions. All the national UK TV stations are available in Northern Ireland. BBC Northern Ireland is a publicly owned station; UTV is a commercial station.


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